How Experts Achieve a Balance

Managing both your personal and professional lives requires some effort and planning, but the rewards are worth it.

To achieve her “balance,” Palladino relies on habits and personal rules. “I use rules for daily exercise, bedtime, caps on screentime, caffeine, and the time I allow to elapse between contacts with family and friends.” Of course, life still gets in the way. But when Palladino breaks her own rules and becomes immersed in work, she asks herself “What am I not doing now?” and makes sure she returns to them.

The experts interviewed also plan and pencil in activities. Palladino schedules alone time, and “I make birthdays, family gatherings and dates that matter to those who matter a top priority for me.” So does Stack, who devotes one day each month for doing whatever she wants. “I may call a friend to have lunch. I may go to the recreation center and sit in the Jacuzzi. I may drive to Cold Stone Creamery and get my favorite full-fat, full-sugar vanilla custard, mixed with Heath Bar and Butterfinger. I may sleep in. I never really know until I get there.”

According to Caputo, a self-professed “compulsive planner and priority setter”: “I look ahead a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour and know what I can be doing that will continue to move me towards where I want to go. I plan for exercise, personal care—a.k.a massages and pedicures—and of course work and kids items.”

Caputo and her husband support each other in the planning process. They have weekly 45-minute meetings to talk about topics like “kids schedules, finances [and] our calendar updates.” These meetings help “us focus on what we need to do so that we don’t have to talk about it for the rest of the week and we can enjoy life.”

For Hess, a loose schedule works best. While she sets certain routines “like exercising in the morning to jumpstart my brain and body,” she lets herself savor downtime. “As an empty nester, my husband and I have much more flexibility,” she said. However, when she had a full house of kids, setting priorities was invaluable. She said:

“I clearly remember the days of carpooling, sick kids and sporting events. In those days a lot of soul searching about my priorities helped with keeping balance. In our family a sit-down dinner was a must-have when my kids lived here. We arranged our schedules to make that happen at least several nights a week and passed up other activities. I didn’t say we had prime rib and twice stuffed potatoes, but we did eat together!”

Overcoming Challenges in Finding the Balance

No matter how sound the system or how smooth a person’s ability to juggle everything, inevitably challenges arise. For instance, our own beliefs can be sabotaging. Take the worry of unplugging. Many people fret that they’re somehow missing out on something important.

Palladino, too, has this “fear of missing out,” so she gives herself a dose of perspective. “Yes, if I turn off my smart phone, I might miss the next call or message, and it could be the break that would change my life, but chances are it isn’t, and the thought that it might be is most likely my brain’s justification to get its dopamine fix NOW.”

Many people also think they must reply to email ASAP. Palladino responds to every reader email she receives. But doing so immediately usually means staying up late and wrecking the following day. “I’m learning to accept my long response time by reminding myself that others will be fine without my reply for awhile. I’m not indispensable!”

Stepping away from the computer is tough for Hess, too. As she said, “Since I work from home, it’s always calling my name from down the hall.” Also calling Hess’s name is her BlackBerry. To rein this in, she designates one “computer free day” during the weekend. She does let herself check email on her BlackBerry but waits to reply ‘til Sunday night or early Monday. “I also find that daily affirmations and prayer are a key to my sanity,” she said.

For Palladino, disruptions are a big challenge when getting back to healthy habits such as physical activity and sleep. Planning ahead helps, Palladino said. So does easing into exercise. “I especially like practicing yoga and walking outdoors, which luckily, are pretty easy to do most anywhere, anytime.”

A challenge for Hohlbaum is multiple demands, “whether it is my children making requests, clients needing more attention or my family calling out.” What’s been lifesaving for her is setting and sustaining boundaries. She emphasized the importance of saying no. (If you want to learn more about building and maintaining better boundaries, see here and here.) Also, “taking nature walks, hugging trees and exercising are immensely grounding for me,” she added.

Caputo can relate to “feeling pulled in a million directions.” Keeping great lists is her saving grace. “This way, I know I’ll get to it; I just don’t have to do it right now…If I didn’t keep great lists—my daily list in particular—I have no idea how I would manage through the feelings that come and go in a day of work and life.”

When Hohlbaum feels herself besieged by busyness, she is “aware of [the] impact and restore[s] peace by taking a time out, going within or eating really well to manage my energy levels.”

Again, achieving a “work-life balance” will look different for everyone. The key is finding what’s most important to you — and no doubt having a good planner.